Governor stays firm defending rent deal

New York Post, June 18, 1997

ALBANY -- Gov. Pataki yesterday defended the rent-law deal, even as New Yorkers headed into a third day today without protections in place.

Pataki, Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver met behind closed doors for nearly two hours last night to iron out kinks in the complicated new rent-control legislation.

They said most, but not all, of the disputes that have been holding up passage of the bill were resolved. Lawyers for the three men were continuing to work into the night to finish drafting the bill.

"There's questions that the lawyers have to talk about," Bruno said.

It is likely the state Legislature today will take up the bill.

Pataki spokeswoman Zenia Mucha said the governor was itching to sign the legislation.

"I think everyone wants to get it resolved," Pataki said.

The 50-year-old laws protecting 2.5 million city residents expired at midnight on Sunday.

Pataki, Bruno (R-Rensselaer) and Silver (D-Manhattan) are very close to settling what had been a big bone of contention: the details of requiring tenants to deposit rent checks into escrow accounts during rent disputes with their landlords.

The bill also will remove protections for some wealthy tenants, stiffen penalties for landlords who harass tenants, raise the rent on vacant apartments, tighten succession rights, and spur housing development.

Officials said the new rent law will take effect retroactively, and warned landlords against any evictions or improper rent hikes during the time rent protections are not the law.

"People shouldn't feel anxiety about this," said Billy Easton, executive director of the Tenants and Neighbors Coalition.

Pataki claimed the reforms are even more sweeping than the three-year experiment with vacancy decontrol in the early 1970s.

Bruno wanted to bring vacancy decontrol back, but his bid to do so was defeated by Silver, and some say Pataki -- who had backed vacancy decontrol -- got cold feet.

Pataki dismissed mounting criticism from landlords.

"There were a number of landlords who just wanted rent control to end," Pataki said. "They were disappointed that it didn't blow up on Monday because then they would have been free of any restrictions.

"I believe it's a very positive change. It's the most dramatic change in the rent laws in New York state in over 50 years."